Valentine’s retail opportunities often personal, become part of couple’s story

Katie Laxson, right, helps Jan Perison pick out a box of chocolates, February 11, 2014. Gardners Candies, in State College, Pa., is experiencing heavy traffic with the Valentine’s Day holiday Friday.
Katie Laxson, right, helps Jan Perison pick out a box of chocolates, February 11, 2014. Gardners Candies, in State College, Pa., is experiencing heavy traffic with the Valentine’s Day holiday Friday. CDT photo

When it comes to Valentine’s Day, local businesses that cater to the romantic crowd don’t just sell gifts, they sometimes become a part of someone’s story — all while boosting sales.

At George’s Floral Boutique, 482 E. College Ave. in State College, manager Brooke Thomas helped a Penn State student with his marriage proposal last year.

Thomas said she helped orchestrate a proposal in which the man bought dozens of rose petals, covered the Lion Shrine on campus with them and proposed to his girlfriend on one knee. The couple got married last year at Beaver Stadium, where George’s created the flower arrangements for their wedding, she said.

“I love coming in Monday morning to see what the day or week is going to bring,” Thomas said. “We’re often the store where people will buy flowers for their significant other and then take us on their relationship journey. And a lot of the time, it starts with Valentine’s Day.”

This year, George’s was key in helping State College resident and Penn State graduate student Chris Barrett decide what gift he was going to buy girlfriend Melanie Conidaris.

He was pondering buying flowers, chocolates or maybe something glittery for her ears, but he then came to the realization to hit the trifecta and also surprise her with dinner.

His plans came together quickly because on Wednesday, he will be going out of town until next week and would miss Valentine’s Day for the first time in three years.

“I know a lot of people think Valentine’s Day as just another day or a stupid holiday, but we’re both pretty busy people. So when we have a designated day to devote to each other, then we’ll take advantage of that, and I’ll go all out,” Barrett said. “This year, we have to celebrate a little early.”

Barrett is just one of hundreds of patrons who ended up buying a bundle of roses for significant others then hitting Gardners Candies for some heart-shaped chocolates or jewelry at a downtown jeweler.

“Make it unique for that person,” said Sam Phillips, president of Gardners Candies. “It has been a busy holiday, and chocolates are wonderful sweet gifts for your sweetie. A gift of chocolate shows affections, but perhaps customize it this year.”

Since the beginning of last week, the Patton Township store, now next to Panera Bread in T.J. Maxx Plaza on North Atherton Street, has seen nonstop foot traffic, said Kathy Storm, district manager.

“Now that we have a new location here, people have been coming in like crazy to check it out, and Valentine’s Day also just so happens to be coming up.”

The most-popular chocolates include peanut-butter meltaways and assorted chocolates that come in heart-shaped boxes, she said.

“It’s one of those nice things where some people can actually come in and make their own custom heart boxes,” Storm said. “Those are the ones selling.”

To prepare for the short business spike that should taper off by Friday night, Storm said making sure they have plenty of products is key.

“We make sure to never run out,” Storm said. “And we never do.”

At Gift Adventures, 137 E. Beaver Ave., in State College, owner Steve Artz said the store has a bit of a different demographic, and that includes children.

Gift Adventures has been stocking up with greeting cards, homemade jewelry and stuffed animals, which he said is popular with children.

“We tell our customers to buy something unique for the individual. If they need help, we’ll ask them who the gift is for and direct them to something that person might like,” Artz said. “With kids, and by that I mean children, the stuffed animals are very popular.”

For everyone else, Artz thinks specialty candies and heart-shaped cake made by Chinna Jenns Goodies might be the next best thing.

“What we’re seeing right now is a lot of people coming in this week to scope out gifts and say they’ll be back later in the week,” Artz said. “Historically, Valentine’s Day and the day before will be very heavy with sales.”

He estimates that daily sales will double for his store.

And the united Valentine’s Day theme is all about making it noteworthy.

“It’s meant to be a special day, said Gardners’ Phillips, “and that’s why we hope to provide our customers with special gifts to remember.”